Monthly Archives: December 2016

I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh

I Let You GoI Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is told mostly in the first person, but not always from the same point of view. The scene switches from Jenna’s world to Ray’s (the Detective Inspector in charge of the hit and run case that resulted in the death of a boy). These two primary characters have their relationship problems (in their own worlds, not with each other). The setting switches from Bristol to a small Welsh village. There are a couple of big surprises in store.

What I liked the most about this story was the authenticity with which the writer treated the police work. Her twelve years working in the British justice system shows – and all for the best in my opinion. Although I know the U.S. federal criminal justice system thoroughly, the British system is quite different, a difference I found fascinating at times.

The ending is a bit too predictable and the characters just a tad too cliched for my taste, but all in all it was an engaging story that kept me wanting more. I listened to the CD audio version and enjoyed the accents. The actors, both male and female, are very good.

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A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

A Man Called OveA Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Few books can be summarized in two words, but this one is an exception: Lovable curmudgeon. That’s Ove and that’s the whole book. It’s well-written, blending humor and heartbreak. I enjoyed it despite its patent manipulative writing. The characters were all caricatures: Ove who could fix everything and physically overpower or intimidate anyone, his wife who could turn the most incorrigible juvenile delinquent into a Shakespeare scholar, the bureaucrat who was completely insufferable in every way.

I was irritated at times at this overwriting, and that probably dropped it a star in my rating, but I also have a more serious objection. Suicide, or attempted suicide, is not an appropriate subject for a whimsical or humorous tale, in my opinion. My family has been touched tragically in this way on more than one occasion and I can tell you it is the exact opposite of funny. This subject was introduced early in the book and I probably would have stopped reading at that point had the book not been the subject of my next book club meeting. Still, I’m glad I did keep on, because the plot moved on, as I knew it must, with most of the book remaining, and it really did bring some smiles and tugs at the heartstrings toward the end.

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So …

A new verbal tic has appeared — “So …” I’m not sure how or exactly when it came to be, but I’ve recently noticed that people¬† now begin the answer to almost every question with “So….” I hear this when people are interviewed on the local news. I hear this from panelists on radio shows or podcasts like “Tell Me Something I Don’t Know” or “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me.” (That’s an interesting juxtaposition of shows, by the way.)

There’s something different about this one. Most of the verbal tics that have appeared in recent years have originated, or at least spread widely, by teenagers. I’m referring to “like,” “I mean,” “all” and similar annoying monstrosities as in “He’s like so stupid. I mean he’s all like ‘Why’d you do that?’ and I’m like ‘Whadda ya mean?'” Another one that bugs the hell out of me is the use of an objective case pronoun (or two) for the subject of a sentence as in “Me and him couldn’t agree.” Generally adults don’t fall prey to these.

This new one, however, seems to have taken hold in educated adults. At least it’s only at the beginning of each sentence and not scattered throughout, which makes it slightly less annoying. It still makes the speaker sound like an airhead, though. As a writer, I find it useful to identify these verbal tics so that I can immediately convey the idea that a character is stupid, lazy, or both by having them talk this way.

The word “so” has an actual meaning, several, in fact. As a conjunction it usually implies causation. “It was cold outside so I put on my coat.” As an adverb it suggests the extreme, similar to the word very, as “It’s so hot today,” but usually it implies causation in that use too, since one expects that phrase to be followed by a “that” phrase. “It was so hot that I had to remove my coat.” It can correctly be used as the answer to a question where that causation is implied. “Why did you put on your coat? So that I wouldn’t be cold.” But it’s not a general space filler. For example, “Q: Tell us a little about yourself. A: So, I grew up in New York …” I hear this constantly now and if you do it, you sound stupid, at least to word nazis like me. I’ve discovered I’m not the only one who has noticed this and deplores it, so, no, it’s not just me. It’s #SoAnnoying to a lot of people.

Google Ngram Viewer Christmas wishes

In my cryptography hobby I often use Google Ngram Viewer to try to guess what words might fit before, after, or even in the middle of a phrase. A few years ago I wrote a story using its predictive ability. I decided to try it again with a Christmas theme and the results are set forth below. Here’s how it works: I fed it the first four words of each sentence followed by an asterisk (e.g. Santa Claus is coming *). The Ngram Viewer responds with the most frequent words to follow that phrase in the millions of books it has scanned. I add the most frequent one to the end and remove the one at the beginning and repeat. So each word is produced by the previous four words. I rather arbitrarily chose where to stop and place a period so as to make a full sentence. So here’s the result.

Have a merry Christmas and a happy new year and many of them are not even aware of the existence of the world. Santa Claus is coming to town to see the doctor and the patient are in the same position as the first of the two. Joy to the world the first example of a new type of society that is not only a matter of time.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone.

The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena

The Couple Next DoorThe Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“Unrelenting” according to the blurb from Sue Grafton on the cover; I agree 100% I absolutely devoured this non-stop suspense thriller. Every page brought a new twist. Detective Rasbach is on the right track, but the track keeps changing. You’ll have to hold your head with both hands to keep it from spinning. There’s a confession. There’s a murder. Neither of those bring a resolution to the mystery.

Baby Cora is kidnapped while her parents are next door. All the character have flaws, we find out, but does that make them kidnappers? Both parents left Cora alone. Anne had too much to drink. Marco flirted with the sexy neighbor outside on the porch. The babysitter canceled at the last minute, but she used to fall asleep with her earbuds in. Would she have even been able to stop the kidnapper? Then we find that Marco and Anne both have secrets they’ve been keeping from each other.

This book has all the best qualities of Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train. Will Cora be found alive or dead? Will she be found at all? You won’t find out until the very end.

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Text-to-Speech – a new way to proofread

Here’s a tip for you writers out there. I’m trying a new technique for proofreading my latest Cliff Knowles Mystery: text-to-speech software. I opted for the free Panopreter Basic reader. Of course it produces a clunky computer voice, not a human-sounding one, but I expected that. If you use one of the paid versions, you have choices of voices and other features. This one delivers ads in the interface, but I ignore them. I don’t even know what’s being advertised since I never look at that window.

Since I write in Microsoft Word, my file has a docx extension. The reader requires another format, but it accepts several, including doc and txt. I use txt. Simply open up the application, click Input and Speak, and select your file from the menu. Your file’s text will appear in the main window.¬† Click the Speak button in the lower left and the voice (Microsoft Anna) begins to read. There are sliders to adjust volume and speed. Don’t set it too fast. It’s tempting to try to get through the proofreading chore as fast as possible, but you will miss things if you go faster than a leisurely pace. You are doing this to catch mistakes. I am amazed at how much easier it is to notice a mistake read aloud to me than it is to see it when reading. I’ve been catching a lot of errors this way.

The software is far from perfect. Getting used to the odd cadence of the voice is the hardest part. It will take some patience to use it. For example, if the word no appears at the end of a sentence, with a period after it, (like “She shook her head no.”) the software reads it as “number.” This makes for some funny dialogue. If a series of digits is four digits without a comma, like 2016, it reads it correctly as a date, and if it is preceded by a $ then it correctly recites the word “dollars” after the amount, but it pronounces Roman numerals weirdly and the word “is” always comes out as “eyes.” Since I write murder mysteries, the word homicide appears frequently. The software sometimes pronounces it right, but most of the time it comes out as “domicide” for some reason. There are many other anomalies. You can pause the reading to make a correction in your original file, but so far as I can tell, you can’t back up or fast forward to another location, at least not in the free version. If you shut it down, it will start at the beginning again. You can, however, save it as a .wav file and then you can navigate through that with any media player. I don’t bother with that. I just save my original in text files of ten to fifteen pages at a time and play them all the way through.

Still, you can’t beat the price, and it’s a lot faster than a paid proofreader, too. So expect my seventh Cliff Knowles Mystery, A Will to Die, soon. Unfortunately, it won’t be out by Christmas, but if you don’t get one of the items on your wish list for Christmas, you can treat yourself to this one in the new year.

Present Darkness by Malla Nunn

Present Darkness (Detective Emmanuel Cooper, #4)Present Darkness by Malla Nunn
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Detective Sergeant Emmanuel Cooper is from the wrong side of the tracks – the South African tracks, that is. He is a white man living with a colored woman in the apartheid era. A white married couple is murdered and their daughter identifies two black students as the murderers. Cooper realizes quickly that the girl is lying but doesn’t know why. The white police lieutenant seizes on the identification as a quick solve of a heinous crime. It is up to Cooper to ferret out the truth.

The setting, both geographic and cultural, is esoteric and interesting to western readers; at least it was to me. However, that’s about all I can say this book has going for it. The plot was predictable and the characters hackneyed. Zulu detective Shabalala is ripped from the pages of the comic books – magically able to track anyone or anything, move absolutely silently despite near superhuman size and strength, and having that native intuition that can tell when anyone is lying. The doctor with them can cure anyone of anything with whatever is at hand – a shoestring, a jar of honey. Cooper’s inherent goodness can convince anyone to trust him 100% and cooperate with the police regardless of personal risk and can take any amount of beating or torture without revealing critical information. The bad guys are so obvious that they might as well have appeared with a neon sign on their heads from the first page where they were introduced and of course have not a single redeeming characteristic. I expected a “bwa-ha-ha” at any moment. There is no mystery here. You know how it’s going to play out from around page 10; at least I did.

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